On the very southwest border of Pennsylvania is Greene County, bordered on two sides by West Virginia. It’s coal country, but, more accurately, it’s energy country. Fracking, extraction mining, and valleys filled with toxic coal ash – Greene County has it all. The county can be viewed as a microcosm of a tension all too common across the United States: public natural resources pitted against private profit.
Driving through lush, green hills and valleys on the county's winding roads, you lose cell reception, but you never lose sight of the architecture of industry. Roads are dotted with mining signs, gas wells, and foreboding advisories against trespassing. Coal trains haunt backyards in the county, with a population hovering around 38,500. Large trucks barrel down the slim and shoulderless two-lane highways under the towering coal conveyor belt systems that criss-cross the landscape.
Pennsylvania's constitution states that its streams and rivers are the property of "all the people, including generations yet to come." But extracting coal, oil, and gas has side effects that imperils these bodies of water. Longwall mining, for instance, can destabilize land through subsidence, which can destroy streams and damage property. Consol Energy, the owner of Greene County's enormous Bailey Mine Complex and proponent of longwall mining, has bought and overtaken vast tracts of land to dispose of its coal waste.
What is it like to live here? I followed local environmental activist Veronica Coptis, the executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, a environmental non-profit organization that serves Greene and Washington counties with organizing and legal work. The organization seeks to hold private energy companies accountable to their impacts on public health, air quality, and water quality – something Coptis says state regulators are not doing. Watch the video above to see what they're up against.